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First Responders at Elevated Risk for Mental Health Challenges

In a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 first responders, 85 percent reported mental health symptoms. One-third reported clinical diagnoses of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While these numbers loom large, seven out of 10 of those surveyed claimed mental health services are rarely or never utilized by their organization with four out of 10 individuals reporting concern about repercussions for seeking help at work. (“Mental Health Survey Shows Trauma Among First Responders,” NBC 7 San Diego, April 19, 2017).

Why do first responders have higher-than-average reported rates of mental health challenges?

Every day they face danger, uncertainty and stress. And while, intensive training prepares first responders for the physical demands of protecting their community, their work can also take a serious toll on mental health. But too often, these issues aren’t addressed until it’s too late.

“You’re dealing with traumatic stuff and the worst days of people’s lives over and over and over again,” said Det. Jack Schaeffer, vice president of the San Diego Police Officers Association. “I think that a lot of us just learn how to compartmentalize things, put things away.”

For police officers, medics and nurses, a myriad of events might leave impressions that can lead to elevated risk for depression and PTSD. But stigma can create an obstacle to seeking appropriate assistance and treatment.

Challenging these attitudes within the public safety sphere is critical.

Understanding the many facets of certain mental health conditions is the first step to overcoming stigma. That’s why Mental Health First Aid can be such an important aspect of self-care for first responders – it has the power to teach them to recognize and respond to signs of stress and trauma in themselves and among their colleagues.

You have the power to break down stigma. With Mental Health First Aid, anyone, anywhere can be the one to make a difference.

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